I’ve said it before. Macaroni and cheese from a box may seem easy, but the damage to your health, and the health of your children, is just too high. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the stuff with powdered cheese-like bright orange substance or the kind with a cheese-like sauce in a pouch or can. Both are loaded with salt, fat and sugar. Yes, sugar. You’d be amazed at how many convenience foods have added sugar in some form. We already consume way too much of that.
So, what’s a carbohydrate loving bachelor, or a busy parent, to do? Make your own macaroni and cheese on the stove. And, believe it or not, it can take almost the same amount of time as the boxed kind.
When I was a kid, macaroni and cheese was not an everyday dish. It was something that was served on holidays or other special occasions because it took a lot of time. First you had to cook the macaroni. Then you made a cheese sauce with milk. Velveeta was a popular ingredient in that. While it is a processed cheese food, meaning not a cheese itself, it really does make a good and easy cheese sauce. In my family, the macaroni and sauce were brought together in a buttered baking dish and then chunks of cheddar cheese were inserted all around the dish and dotted around the top. This made a great macaroni and cheese with a little crusting around the outside and a center that didn’t run all over the plate. But it took time, money and some effort.
Today, that kind of macaroni and cheese is rejected by most kids and lots of adults who like the stuff in the box. It’s familiar. It’s cheap. It’s quick. It’s easy.
Forget the box without taking all that time as with old fashioned macaroni and cheese. This way you can control the amount of salt and fat and ditch the sugar altogether.
Easy Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese
This makes four servings and takes about 20 minutes.
- A large saucepan
- A small saucepan or microwavable measuring cup
- 2 cups elbow macaroni
- 2 tablespoons butter or extra virgin olive oil (oil will change the flavor but has less fat)
- 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
- 2 cups half and half or milk (another place you can cut the fat)
- 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar (I do my own with a chunk of cheese and a box grater)
- Heavy pinch of salt (for the pasta water)
- Put water in the large saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil. Add salt. Cook macaroni according to package directions, about 8 minutes. Drain and set aside.
- Warm the milk either in the microwave for about 1 minute on high or in a small saucepan over low heat.
- In the large saucepan, over medium heat, melt the butter or warm the oil. Whisk in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Slowly, a little at a time, whisk in the warmed milk. Whisk continuously until the mixture is steaming and starts to thicken, about four minutes.
- Remove from heat and stir in cheese until melted. Add the macaroni and stir to combine. Check seasoning and serve.
See? You don’t have to be dependent on the box, even if you don’t have a lot of time. We’ll look at some other homemade convenience foods over the next few weeks.